On NPR, diversity, and responding to criticism

So, ABW wrote a post about NPR and their apparent lack of diversity and NPR responded. While I know that ABW is planning on discussing her own response, I read over the letter and was pretty much floored that a company that purports to need pledge money to survive would allow such a letter to be sent. It was certainly not the worst response to criticism that I’ve ever seen, but it definitely wasn’t the best.

Now, I’m sure most of you are going to be like, “What the heck is tekanji talking about?” (you have read the letter, right?) because there’s nothing obviously unprofessional about it, and in fact it does include a lot of important and valid information in it. But if you hear me out and read the rest of this post, hopefully you’ll be able to see why I think that the letter was more unprofessional than it first appears.

The letter started out really good by answering the challenge with an upbeat and positive, “Look at all the great people we already have!” response. I was reading along, nodding my head, and overall feeling positive about the response. Then I hit the second paragraph.

The tone takes a sharp turn with the opening sentence [emphasis mine]:

Your assumptions about our staff diversity are incorrect. In the last seven years, NPR News alone has more than doubled its staff of people of color – by 106%. That includes 118% increase specifically in on-air diversity staff, 116% in editorial and 92% in production. Currently, the combined diversity staffing in these three areas represents 22 percent of our total news positions.

Was it necessary to say “[y]our assumptions… are incorrect”? It takes her positive and turns it into a negative — instead of focusing on what NPR is doing right, it focuses on what ABW said that was wrong. And, while I can’t speak for ABW, I can’t imagine how that’s a tactic that’s going to make her, or anyone who admires her, think, “Gee, look how swell NPR is, they really do deserve my money!”

In fact, that whole paragraph would have had a lot more impact if it had kept up the positive throughout. If I were to rewrite it, I’d probably go with something along the lines of:

I definitely agree with you that visible diversity in companies like ours is very important. Which is why I’d like to take some time to address the part of your post where you said “I suspect that, if one were to check, 90% of the reporters would be not-black. If we include all PoC in the count, then NPR is probably 75% white.” In the last seven years, NPR News alone has more than doubled its staff of people of color – by 106%.

It starts out by acknowledging the point that was behind ABW’s claim — that visible diversity is important, and that when diversity isn’t visible that it creates the feeling that the viewpoints of POC aren’t properly represented. Then it further acknowledges what she said as important, by emphasizing that the point is important enough to get its own paragraph. All of that primes the reader to be in a positive frame of mind and therefore the following information is seen as a helpful clarification, rather than a grown-up way of saying, “so there!”

The problem continues with the beginning of the next paragraph:

Finally, your description of News & Notes does a disservice to both the program and the African American Public Radio Consortium, the dedicated group of stations that co-created it with NPR.

Again we have the same problem of the negative focus on what ABW is doing/saying in terms of it being wrong instead of focusing on what NPR is doing right. And, I might be alone in this, but the whole, “you’re doing a disservice to these black organizations” kind of reads as the, “you are making other black people look bad” which, as an argument style, tends to put the blame on black people for being discriminated against, rather than on the systems that are allowing/encouraging the discriminating.

Personally, I think the entire letter would be stronger without that paragraph, because the whole paragraph looks like a vendetta against Tavis Smiley the way that it’s worded. Also, it takes the focus off of the positive things that NPR has done and puts it squarely on the negative side, both with what was said to ABW as well as the accusations made against Smiley (which, whether they’re true are not, are certainly not appropriate to discuss in this venue).

The next paragraph is generally a good one, as it’s about acknowledging that there’s room for improvement, but it reads as kind of cold and antiseptic. My suggestion here, then, would have been to have directly engaged with the underlying message of the post. Talking about the generalities of improvement does nothing to reassure ABW, or her readers, that their concerns, in particular, are being addressed. But doing something such as acknowledging that one of the ways that NPR could improve would be to be more clear and transparent about their current diversity and continuing efforts to improve it, so that listeners like ABW could feel more represented in the future, would have really helped to make a connection.

The last paragraph would need a complete overhaul. It comes across to me as if it’s rubbing it in ABW’s face how wrong she was about the diversity issue and how she should be ashamed of herself. The whole tone is so blatantly passive-aggressive (I mean, come on: “I know how hard they work to bring different perspectives to journalism and I would appreciate them being recognized for their efforts.”? Guilt trips are not high on the “ways to treat your consumers to make them want to give you money” list) and it completely undermines all of the positive points that were made earlier in the piece.

All in all, I have to say that I’m disappointed in NPR. I’m disappointed that they would let such a letter be sent, and I’m disappointed that they made activism look like some sort of petty contest (where there are people who do it “right”, ie. NPR, and people who do it “wrong”, ie. ABW). I’m not a business major, and I have very little practical experience in this area, but even I can see that sending such a letter to someone who is clearly a listener who thinks about donating is bad for business.

I, myself, do not particularly listen to NPR but I have family members who do. And you’d better believe that I’m directing them to ABW’s post, then this one, and then letting them know that NPR may be committed to “diversity” but it sure as hell isn’t committed to treating its listeners, and their concerns, with respect.

Here's a noosey-noose to go with your Klan robe

Disney Couture necklace
From the Pirates of the Caribbean “Dead Man’s Chest” collection – 14K gold plated 20″ Noose Necklace.

So, apparently racist iconography is the new couture. Come on, Disney, ARE YOU STUPID? I have no idea what wires got crossed in the company that they could see this as anything but a very, very bad idea. Especially on the wake of the Jenna Six incident.

I’ve had various problems with the company for a long time, but I think I’m with Sara in thinking that it’s finally time to just say “no” to Disney products. Until that company shapes up and, at the very least, stops actively being racist, I’m through with it.

Via Sara Speaking.

And yet he still has a (multi-million dollar a year paying) job

The last thing the NBA wants you to think about while the playoffs are in full and exciting swing is one of its most habitually toxic players pleading no contest and then being sentenced for a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

Ron Artest is, without a doubt, the single worst role-model when it comes to active professional athletes so it comes as no surprise that though reported, it’s of little concern to the sports world when upsets and game sevens are amuk in the NBA. Artest is also one of the best defensive players in the game and, strictly for his on-court performance, one of the most sought after. So sought after, in fact, that his current team, the Sacramento Kings, agreed to take on Artest after the infamous Malice At The Palace and then stood behind him throughout the entire DV ordeal with talk about “everyone makes mistakes,” “think of the children” and “second chances.” He likely won’t be dismissed from his current team and even if he is, there are always other franchises looking for a gun-for-hire regardless of how they conduct themselves off the court.

The NBA, and professional sports in general, is extremely forgiving (if not purposefully forgetful) when it comes to their male players physically abusing their wives or girlfriends (as well as sexually assaulting women). Jason Kidd’s career survived a leaked 911 domestic violence phone call made by his then-wife Joumana which chillingly illustrated his abusive and manipulative ways (“you think they’re going to believe you?!”). Jason Richardson of the GS Warriors, Shaquille O’Neal, and yes, Kobe Bryant have all been accused/alleged/convicted in crimes ranging from DV to rape and sexual assault. But of course it’s not just basketball. In baseball, Dmitri Young received a legal slap on the wrist for his DV charge and also (and this is going to become a common theme here) had no trouble finding another team willing to do as the Maloofs did and pay him the big bucks. In the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Santonio Holmes offered no apologies for his multiple run-ins with the law which without any remorse included hitting his wife. Perhaps even more unbelievably, the Denver Broncos, in spite of player Sam Brandon’s 2005 arrest for DV, rewarded him with a contract extension in February. In other words, the message in sports is this: domestic violence is a completely forgiveable crime and your career or paycheck is never in jeopardy (at least for long) when you hit your wife, bash her head onto the hood of your car (Julio Lugo of the Boston Red Sox) or harass, intimidate and assault your “girlfriend” (Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants). You pull a Qyntel Woods and engage in some illegal dog-fighting? You’re not only thrown off the team but for a mildly talented player, you’re never seen in the NBA again. But for something like DV this isn’t the case because, if you go by the Woods example for one, abusing dogs is worse than abusing women.

But let’s not forget about Bonds. Barry Bonds is perhaps the most depressing example of how people, the sports world in particular, don’t really care about how a player acts off the field so long as his performance is record-breaking. The volcanic Bonds has been said to have made some extremely racist and sexist comments, physically assaulted his former girlfriend and also stalked and continued to intimidate said girlfriend. After all of this was reported vividly in a best-selling book, the most pressing issue with Bonds? It’s whether the man took steroids and human growth hormones. I’ve heard people argue until red in the face about whether this man deserves to be in the record books, about whether his head has changed shape over the years or if steroids increase your cerebral response time, but absolutely no discussion about the violence. Who cares if he’s lost all integrity as a human being? Did he juice or not, that’s apparantly the big issue here.

In many ways, how the NBA chooses to deal with Bonds’ and Artest’s on and off court actions speak volumes for how the professional sports culture does so as well; that is, it echoes the general worldwide notion of “it’s a private matter, let them deal with it” coupled with “what do you want me/the owners/the fans/the coach to do about it?” (remember, Artest was suspended for the rest of the season for the fight with the Piston’s fans while getting nothing close to that for hitting his wife).

I don’t buy for a second that there’s little to be done about abusive, sexist athletes other than “letting the law take care of it.” Whether you’re the one who signs his check, presents him with the defensive player of the year award, reads his name on a highlight reel or buys his teammate’s jersey at the local pro-shop, as cheesy as this sounds, everybody plays a part in calling out the Artests of, if not the entire world, the professional sports world:

What General Managers and Owners Can Do: Don’t sign or trade for players that you know have been charged with domestic violence. Refuse to deal with players who you know have this problem. The message you send to fans when you do something like this is to say “we’re his second chance. He’s not going to screw this up, believe me.” In reality, the message is “I could care less what he does. If he helps us win then that’s all I care about.” Worried about signing a free agent, a college recruit, a newcomer who may turn to be the next Dmitri Young? Put a clause in the damn contract saying that if he is ever charged with DV, his contract and his paycheck are gone for good. Agents and GMs routinely put into contracts that players are forbidden from doing things like riding motorcycles, participating in dangerous sports activities for fear of physical injury. If you’re that concerned about a player hurting himself and being unable to play for a certain period of time, it only makes sense that if only for the selfish reason of having your talent readily available, you don’t want him to go to, you know, go to jail. If you’ve already got an abusive man on your team then either fire him or demand that he take leave for an indefinite period of time (regardless of any “but we’re right in the middle of a playoff series!” cries) for intensive counseling.

What Coaches and Managers Can Do: Refuse to play players that are under investigation for, being charged with, in the midst of a court proceeding for DV. Who cares about playing time when they get paid anyways, you say? Well, players often have incentives in their contracts that reward good play with cash bonuses. If you are pulled from the lineup for three weeks, you’re not going to reach that 100 RBI mark that season and there goes a large chunk of your non-guaranteed contract. When you don’t do this, when you play a player despite what’s going on in the real world, you are saying to everyone “I don’t care if he hit his wife, we need a strong starter for our series with the Yankees.” If you’re getting flack from the owners, the players for standing up for your beliefs then quit while standing up for your beliefs.

What Fans Can Do: The obvious one here is to boo and heckle the hell out of a player if you’re at the game itself. I’m not a fan of heckling in a sports environment but when someone is abusing another person, well, call them out. However, this of course isn’t probably the most productive thing to do as a fan so the best thing would be to either boycott those games, buying merchandise from the team harboring the abuser while letting the organziation clearly know why you’re choosing not to renew your season tickets or why you’re not buying tickets to give away at your work-place raffle. The message couldn’t be clearer to these franchises: if you condone this behavior by letting this person represent your team, then you aren’t getting my dollars.

What the Commissioner Can Do: Adopt and strictly implement a Code of Conduct for your entire league. David Stern, the NBA commish recently made one that, while vague, focused on the social responsibility of the league to maintain it’s integrity within world communities (think of the “NBA Cares” commercials). One of it’s big selling points was that it boldly promised to work with companies who had this same vision and as such partnered with corporations like Adidas which from what I gather, is supposed to be at least a little bit better than someplace like Nike. Establish from the get-go, especially with incoming players, that if you violate this policy, your contract is immediately terminated and your career is put on indefinite hold. The NBA banned Chris Anderson for repeatedly failing his drug tests so why not do the same to players who repeatedly beat their wives/girlfriends?

What Commissioners, Players and Franchises Can Do Together: For the love of god, be a little more diverse in the kinds of “charity” you involve yourselves in. Building basketball courts for kids is great, buying new computers for kids is awesome, teaching kids how to dribble is fun but i’ll bet you those kids who have abusive men in their lives would much rather have a safe, violence-free home than meeting Vince Carter and learning the pick-and-roll. Any charity is good, don’t get me wrong, but organizations must not shy away from causes like DV, rape, sex-health education and abortion-rights. The Seattle Mariners, to name one particular organization, actually did this in their “I Will Not Hit” ad-campaign from several years back where a few of their players brought awareness to DV (To no surprise, The Seattle Mariners is an organization that anti-sexist activist Jackson Katz lists as an org that he worked with.). Furthermore, work together with some different organizations than the ones you always collaborate with: believe me The United Way, the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America aren’t exactly going to go bankrupt if you become more diverse with your charitable funding this year. Even if you’re hell bent on donating specifically to kids and reading (as the NBA is famous for) do it at the Y-DOUBLE-YOU-C-A and maybe not the YMCA this year. Actively seek out local non-profits and larger organizations that deal with DV and rape awareness/prevention/advocacy and the people will follow. Locally, the Seattle Sonics always dish out food at a certain Seattle Christian-based shelter and, surprise of the century, they have more volunteers there than they know what to do with because people hear about Ray Allen spending time there and word spreads. Do the same about other issues for a change.

What Sports-Journalists Can Do: Report the news. When someone like Artest gets sentenced for DV, let the community know. When someone gets arrested for DV, let the community know and then follow up and then follow up some more. Even if you can only fit in a tiny blurb, let people know that these things aren’t just isolated incidents that magically go away after first report. When you’re writing an article about a player who has repeatedly been arrested for DV, connect some dots and question how this person continues to have a job in this league. Bud Selig can’t fire you for what you write or say in your column or newscast so say it.

What Individual Players Can Do: Almost every professional athlete earning more than the league minimum has some sort of charity in their name that they do “on their own time” usually at where they grew up or in the city which they first started playing in the NBA. Again, don’t do what 99.9% of other professional athletes do and instead donate your money, time and name to something that is seen as a “taboo” topic or something that men don’t normally take action against. Take Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order: SVU fame, for example. How many athletes, celebrities or anybody famous can you name that specifically and openly supports survivors of sexual assault?

The NBA, NFL, MLB are each communities. Together, (along with the NHL, NASCAR, etc.) they are a sports community and it has to be the responsibility of these kinds of communities, along with those within family and friends, those of the state, the city, and the federal government to be vocal and call out domestic violence for the scourge that it is in society and it’s own players lives. What clearer way is there for people to band together and begin to speak out against domestic violence than through the sports teams they root for? If you want to be truly proud of your team, don’t you want to be proud that it doesn’t condone men’s violence against women?

So Ron Artest is going to now enter classes on domestic violence, classes on the effects of DV to kids, do some community service and, whenever the court (or the counselor) says he doesn’t have to partake in those support groups anymore, call it a day. A few years ago I would’ve said that while he should get jail-time, this is the most we can do and sending him to DV support groups/counseling is what he needs. After reading Why Does He Do That?, I’m not so sure. Actually, i’m pretty confident that he’s not going to change or get better in any long-term way because, after reading from someone whose job it is to work with guys like Artest in DV support groups, the men there…most of them don’t get better. In fact, according to Bancroft, many get worse and the wives and girlfriends are told very specifically from the beginning to anticipate this potential increase in violent behavior. What I didn’t know about these types of programs is that while they from the outside look to be aiming to help folks like Artest, the main focus is in helping the abused women in the relationship. Whether that’s connecting them with confidential shelter resources or simply sharing vital information about the abuser that could save a woman’s life, the aid is in immediately minimizing the damage and assisting the woman in whatever stage of the relationship she may be at with the abuser. Whether that’s “making plans to divorce and relocate” or not, the point is that unless jailed, someone like Artest will likely continue his abusive ways with his wife, if not another woman.

After working at a place where we upheld supposed confidentiality Codes of Conduct and with a blind-eye harbored male rapists, DV abusers, drug-addicts, thieves and child-support dodgers, I don’t know what else to suggest than massive, parole-free jail-years. The folks I encountered on the job, minus the alcoholics (though many had combinations of “demons”), weren’t going to get any better in a “transitional program” so they coast on by by receiving slight penalties here and there and depending on “second chances” much like Artest. That is and will never be enough because minimizing abuse, while it certainly is necessary given that many abused women still live with their abusers, doesn’t stop the abuse and if you can’t help someone who is a danger to society, if you have the opportunity..you throw his ass in jail for a long, long time.

What's wrong with this picture?

Asiaphilia laptop style
Feel the cultural appropriation around us

I swear I don’t go looking for these kinds of things, they find me all on their own. I went to VoodooPC’s website to check their tech support hours (in the hopes of me getting my laptop back this century…) and I saw the above image.

When you mouse over it you get this lovely text:

Feel the harmony?

Do I even have to do an image and textual analysis of this for everyone to understand what’s wrong with a North American company (recently bought out by HP, mind you) capitalizing on the fetishization of Asian culture in order to sell its product? Okay, then.

Honestly, if I didn’t have so many things to do already I’d be sorely tempted to make a satire of the above ad using Christianity. The laptop as Jesus, anyone?

Using Wikipedia as a Marketing tool?

The recently published How to Make Money Like a Pornstar comic has been the subject of some controversy on the blogsphere. The comic was given to Karen Healey, a well-known feminist comic’s blogger, (I Can’t BELIEVE They Sent This To Me )as well as to Kevin Church, another well known comics blogger (Review: How To Make Money Like A Porn Star). Their reviews are pretty negative, and have recieved some attention from other comic bloggers (see links at bottom of post).

Church followed up his review with one discussing possibly fake Amazon.com reviews (Marketing Conspiracy Theory Machine Go!). His sentiment is echoed by simargl_wings (Pass me the tinhat….), but with added controversy: discussion of the Wikipedia Entry for the comic.

I’ve stuck my nose into Wikipedia’s business exactly one other time. An attempt to make the VAWA article comply with Wikipedia’s NPOV policy. Since the controversy is still going on (check the talk page and the history), I wasn’t the least bit successful. This time I didn’t try to modify the page in question, but rather stuck an NPOV tag on it and addressed the issue in the talk page.

Wikipedia can be a great resource for non-controversial subjects, but the nature of it is that anyone can modify a page for any reason. And that includes advertising — even though it is against the rules.

Continue reading

Short post on disability and my school

As some of you may know, I’m currently attending language school in Japan. There is a student dorm, but most of the housing is apartments rented out to students. When I first got here, I was a bit surprised to see that there was no elevator, but outside of being annoyed that I couldn’t get my heavy stuff up the stairs easily, I didn’t think too much about it.

But something happened a little over a month ago: a guy who lives in my building got into a car accident and is now in a wheelchair. He was told that, due to fire regulations, he could no longer live in our apartment. You see, even the first floor apartments require going up one flight of stairs and in the event of a fire that just isn’t safe. These apartments, I would like to point out, were built just last year.

And then this caused me to realize that all of the kids in the school are able-bodied. Indeed, I have the sneaking suspicion that they would reject anyone who wasn’t because of “undue hassles” (they kicked out one student who was having frequent panic attacks, but wouldn’t/couldn’t take her to the hosptial because she didn’t have Japanese insurance). My building has an elevator and therefore should be accessible, but the building that’s used for the other program as well as private lessons not only has no elevator, but the easy access is a set of pretty dangerous outside stairs. It’s supposedly going under rennovation because of the influx of students, but I’d be surprised if they added an elevator.

On the one hand, I can sort of sympathize with the school: they are becoming increasingly popular and it’s been hard to deal with the influx of students because there isn’t enough space or teachers to accomodate everyone. I’ve also heard that, in terms of buildings, getting through the planning stages is ridiculously hard. But, on the other hand, I would be surprised if this was the first time a problem like this has occurred. My friend is not the first person who I’ve known has gotten into an accident during his stay at my school.

I just… I dunno. I like my school and sympathize with their plight, but at the same time I’m not altogether thrilled with the way they handle students who have specific health needs.

What Quesada's Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome Says About Comics

I don’t think Joe Quesada’s a bad person. I don’t think he hates women. But I do think that he’s digging himself a deep, deep hole on this whole women in the comic book industry thing. For those of you not “in the know,” Joe Quesada is Marvel Comics’ Editor in Chief. This most recent kerfluffle involves him putting his foot into his mouth about the lack of women in the higher ranks of the comic book industry. Ragnell has the scoop on his mediocre response to the question “why hasn’t a women creator made it into the tight circle of Marvel creators?” in her post, Does This Sound Like An Answer?. More commentary can be found here. Continue reading